Social media and social networking platforms open up doors to new relationships and often work well as tools for marketing - broad distribution, top of mind impact, and exposure for expertise.
However, looking back on my social media involvement during 2010, these two uses actually had the least impact on my business goals.
Interestingly, social media was most helpful to me in 2010 when I was engaging with colleagues and friends with whom I already had an off line relationship at one point or other in time. This didn't mean that I ONLY interacted with people I knew in the bricks and mortar world; in fact, I made several significant new connections in 2010 with people I'd only met via social media who became new clients, valuable resources, and generally great people to know. But overall, this was the exception not the rule. I received more new business from mining my known network and from using social media tools to deepen relationships with those in my network who are geographically distant. Realizing this is helping me focus my social media activity in 2011.
Based on my experimentation with open networking in the very large marketplace of the social web, I've learned that the best use of social networks, and even my blog, is to "get together" online with people I already know using smaller communities; so I intend to do more of that in 2011.
Essentially my community interaction revolves around content, i.e. status updates, reviews, ideas, suggestions, quotes, links to what's being read, and notes about what's going on in lives, both personal and professional. For the most part, I care about what my established communities are talking about because I already have a sense of who they are and where they fit into my life. It gives our interactions focus. It allows me to contribute in a meaningful way. The content we share creates a sort of bond. Within this type of community we are all free to do business with one another and indeed we do. What really makes focused communities helpful to me is in knowing that being social online becomes something I want to do and not just another "marketing" chore. It's authentic. And, when you're doing something you like to do, the enthusiasm is noted by others and often translates to new business.
This is really important, I think, for law firms who are trying to make sense of how they can leverage social tools for the entity. Casting a wide net may have a place in the marketing mix, but finding or creating smaller communities to engage in is where they will begin to see the most meaningful activity and new business prospects.
Chris Brogan recently blogged about the importance of building your social media activity around an object of focus to stimulate content and community:
You need a campfire...you need that social setting that consists of: object of focus, group experience of that object, and then creative expression thereafter. In literal terms, the party is around a campfire. In more stretched out thinking, the party is around the creative content. It's content, community, and marketplace, said another way.
Read more on the Virtual Marketing Officer Blog.